Book choice for June

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen [suggested by Kathryn Berzins]

front cover

With its lovable, impressionable heroine and its themes of growing up and learning to live in the real world, "Northanger Abbey" remains one of Jane Austen's most irresistible and up-to-date novels. Catherine Morland is the very ideal of a nice girl from a happy family, but she is blessed with an overactive imagination. She is also obsessed with Iurid Gothic novels, where terrible things happen to the heroine, which gets her into all sorts of trouble...When Catherine meets funny, sharp Henry Tilney, she's instantly taken with him. But when she is invited to his home, the sinister Northanger Abbey, her preoccupation with fantasy starts to get in the way of reality. Will she learn to separate out the two in time?

The English author Jane Austen lived from 1775 to 1817. Her novels are highly prized not only for their light irony, humor, and depiction of contemporary English country life, but also for their underlying serious qualities. (This is a brief extract from the Jane Austen Info Page. See also the website for the Jane Austen Centre in Bath)

 

Shortlisted for this month

No Place Like Home [suggested by Sarah Rees]

No Place Like Home

Synopsis

I cannot believe I am standing in the exact spot where I was standing when I killed my mother...When she was ten, Liza Barton shot her mother dead, trying to protect her from her violent stepfather. The court ruled the death a tragic accident. Many believed it to be deliberate murder. Twenty-four years later, Liza is known as Celia. Now, a successful interior designer, living in Manhattan, she is happily married for the second time, with a young son, Jack, by her first marriage. Nothing can disturb their peace. But, when her new husband surprises her with a gift, her world is suddenly shattered - for it is the very same house where her mother met her death. It soon becomes clear that someone in the community knows Celia's true identity. And, when the estate agent who sold the house is brutally murdered, Celia instantly becomes a suspect. As Celia fights to prove her innocence, she has no idea that she and Jack could be the next targets of a ruthless killer.

About the Author

Mary Higgins Clark has an extensive biography write-up on SimonSays.com

Anansi Boys [suggested by Sally Byrne]

Anansi Boys

Synopsis

Fat Charlie (not his real name, but it's a name his father gave him, and names his father gives always seem to stick) was taken to England by his mother when he was younger, mainly to get away from his father. Fat Charlie has had a good life, and is now engaged to a wonderful woman, but things start to spiral downward when his fianc´┐Że, Rosie, insists on inviting his father to their wedding. Fat Charlie finds out that his father has just died, and goes to Florida for the funeral. Thus begins a sequence of events that will introduce Fat Charlie to his charming brother, Spider, a man with the powers of a god. The powers of his father, truth be told. Spider is impulsive and always looking out for his own pleasure, which just makes things worse. But things just get out of control when the other gods get involved. Their father, who is known as Anansi, wasn't exactly well-liked by the other gods, and their revenge may just affect the boys too. Fat Charlie is in way over his head and, for once, so is Spider. Even the old ladies who seem to know what is going on may not be able to help them before it's too late.

Turning any of the pages in Anansi Boys was a pure treat for me, as Gaiman's prose just leaps off the page. Gaiman seems fascinated with stories, as most of his other works indicate as well, and here is no different. Anansi stole the stories of the world from Tiger way back when the world was new, and Tiger has forever resented it. Gaiman's love for stories shines through, the words sounding almost lyrical.

"Stories are like spiders, with all the long legs, and stories are like spiderwebs, which man gets himself all tangled up in but which look so pretty when you see them under a leaf in the morning dew, and in the elegant way that they connect to one another: each to each." Pg 39

The narration of the story is interesting. The book is told in third person, but occasionally the narrator will turn and talk to the reader. Just an aside or two, and then back to the story. It's a wonderful technique, which just adds to the mythological aspects of the book. There isn't a clunky word in this book anywhere.

Gaiman also gives us a variety of interesting characters, whose stories intertwine gracefully, though a couple of the coincidences grate just a little. This isn't as annoying as it could have been, perhaps because of the mythological nature of the book which seems to require these sorts of things. Fat Charlie ends up meeting Daisy, a financial cop who just happens to be called in on a case involving him? Whatever the case, these were only minor annoyances, and were lessened by the type of story Gaiman is telling.

Fat Charlie and Spider make an interesting pair, and while their secret did surprise me, it fits wonderfully in hindsight, given the personality that we see in Fat Charlie. He's not a go-getter, reluctant to put himself out in the middle where he might get hurt. He's a great singer, but he gets complete stage-fright when he's supposed to do it in front of people. He seems to have settled for Rosie and he doesn't have a lot of drive. Spider, meanwhile, is almost the exact opposite, living everything in the moment and moving on when he feels like it.

Another good character is Grahame Coats, Fat Charlie's evil boss, who moves from scam to scam whenever things start to get a little hot for him. He always has a contingency plan, but this time, things seem to be going very wrong, and he starts acting crazier and crazier. One thing I didn't like about Coats is how unclear it was how much of Coats personality comes from another source, or whether it's just at the end where this happens. Ambiguity can be good, and I'm sure that's what Gaiman was aiming for, but I think it was a little too ambiguous where Coats was concerned.

The main female characters, Daisy and Rosie, aren't as strong as I might have liked, but they do have wonderful moments within the narrative. Where the relationships between these four characters end up is a bit obvious, but I enjoyed watching how they got there. Daisy is an impulsive cop who is willing to walk away from her job to get the bad guy and Rosie, while she seems fairly weak at the beginning of the book, shows an inner fire later that belies that image of her. The old women are background characters (both Rosie's mom and the old women who help Fat Charlie), but are all entertaining in their own way.

The plot of the book is very straightforward, despite its supernatural origin. There aren't any inexplicable flights of fancy in Anansi Boys; instead, every trip to another reality is grounded solidly in the story. I enjoyed the mythology that Gaiman uses, and I loved how the revenge motif traveled throughout the old gods for what Anansi did to them for all those years. And I found the relationship between the two brothers fascinating.

(Review by David Roy, Vancouver, BC)

About the Author

Neil Gaiman has his own website and also an extensive biography and bibliography on Wikipedia.

Previous Months' Book Choices

May 2006